Journey mapping is one of the hottest topics for marketers. Forrester research recently found that most marketers (63%) rely on journey maps. However, Millward Brown Digital found that most (55%) of senior marketers were not confident in their company’s “understanding of the customer journey”, and Gartner recently explained that “Ten years ago there weren’t as many engagement channels, whereas now we have so many channels we’ve basically lost the customer. We don’t know where they are, or how they work with us. I’m not even sure the customer knows this.”
While journey mapping is a hot topic, there seems to be a lack of clear understanding of how to actually create a journey map.
The first step is to define what we mean with the phrase “customer journey”. Customer journeys are – fundamentally – our experience with brands. They are functional, physical and emotional. They reveal how we engage with and live through our interactions with vendors (dare I say partners or co-collaborators) to accomplish our goals.
This makes journeys the central scope of activities and sensitivities that brands need to understand and influence to grow their business. Commerce, after all, is no longer as much about selling stuff, and more about building enduring relationships with current and would-be buyers. As such, the journey transcends the actual purchasing cycle to incorporate, at the extreme, our lifetime.
So how do we analyze journeys? And what’s most important?
How to Analyze the Customer Journey
To start, there are three critical perspectives to keep in mind.
1. The entire customer journey experience must be analyzed as a whole – after all, it is the overall experience that matters…over the long term.
2. Each part needs to be understood for its role in, and impact on, the whole. Don’t be one of those companies that creates a five-star call center experience, when the need to call shouldn’t exist! Such “touchpoint” fixes waste money and sub-optimize the overall experience.
3. Get to the depth that matters: Why the customer is doing each activity, and what they’re trying to accomplish. This is the key to creating a differentiated experience.
Supporting point #1 is the superior growth achieved by companies that optimize the journey as a cohesive experience, instead of atomizing it into pieces managed by disparate parts of the company. Shoppers do not care about Target’s individual departments or org chart. They just want to inform themselves, evaluate options, transact and enjoy the purchase. They also may return, exchange, or engage with the brand in an ongoing way through social sharing or contributing content. Does it really make sense to manage this natural and ever evolving flow in pieces, without regard for the impact on the whole? No.
In fact, as David Edelman and Marc Singer at McKinsey tell us, top performing companies “are increasingly managing journeys as they would any product. Journeys are thus becoming …as important as the products themselves in providing competitive advantage.” (1) Just like with a therapist – the relationship IS the therapy. So it is with journeys. For many products and services, the journey IS the offering. It subsumes the product or service itself that the company was originally selling. This means the journey must be the source of value for the consumer. It cannot be a series of necessary evils, euphemistically named sales process, transaction process and support process, all of which are neutral to negative experiences – to be justified in the end by the value and enjoyment of the product or service. Those days are long gone.
Today the brand with the easiest, most enjoyable and valuable journey for each individual wins. But with all of the conflicting material out there about how to actually map out journeys, it’s hard to know where should you start. We’ve found a simple survey approach focused on eight Core Journey Elements provides a solid foundation. Once these Core Journey Elements are documented, and the basics are understood, companies can dive deeper into any aspect needed, be it device specific behavior, segment specific behavior, regional differences, etc.
Notice a few things:
- It provides stage level detail, while maintaining focus on the experience as a whole. (Boxes A and B)It looks at what actions individuals take, quickly nets out which matter, what makes things easier, and which would cause journey defections (leaving). (Boxes C, D, E, F)
- It then quickly anchors our understanding in what the individual is trying to accomplish. (See “Outcomes”, Box G) This is the job-to-be-done, the crucial foundation for meeting customer needs.
- The survey then captures the rest of the eight Core Journey Elements. The full list is:
viii. Importance & Satisfaction
Definitions are below:
Importance and Satisfaction, Element #8, are essential to get at the select few “moments of truth” (MoT) within each journey. These are the impact points that truly matter in each stage, and across the whole experience. They are defined by highly important, yet poorly satisfied journey points. Our efforts are designed to ferret out these points, and to explore them in sufficient detail to direct overall marketing strategy as well as required changes in areas such as product development, design, website content, messaging, creative, and user experience.
Given the common need for speed and precision, a three-phased, iterative approach of surveys, analysis, and testing is recommended. Our team typically accomplishes this in six to eight weeks. This process homes in on what moves the needle for the business, be it in measured in revenue, cycle time, net new customers, conversion, or other metrics.
Below is a real world example of how this process creates a powerful understand that managers and executives can act on to drive results.
A Case Study
A company (2) that connects people with phone-based expert advice came to us a few months ago. They were losing customers fast, spending lots to acquire new ones, and saw a pattern of accelerated churn. The leadership knew they needed to get to the bottom of it.
We surveyed three sets of customers:
1) Long-term loyalists – to buffer retention, and to identify what the journey of an attractive target segment looked like
2) New customers who purchased at least two expert sessions – to understand what would sustain their business and how similar they are to loyalists
3) Prospects who came to the site, but did not purchase service – to determine why they did not engage
The first big finding was that both new and longer-term customers follow a surprisingly similar path. This is because existing customers seek advice from many experts, leading them to search for new providers far more often than expected. So they showed the same entry and evaluation journey steps as new customers. They also showed the same questions and barriers as new customers, even though they had used the service for many years in some cases. This similarity highlighted the importance of the evaluation stage since it was experienced over and over by both new and existing customers.
The results did show longer-term customers had higher satisfaction with their search, however, since they were more familiar with site functionality.
We depicted the path as an ongoing, circular process, supporting the evolution toward bonding with a product, service or brand. It is derived from a McKinsey journey model (3).
Next, we learned that two significant Questions and Barriers dominate all journey stages:
1) Questions about the legitimacy and accuracy of the expertise
2) Confusion about what the total cost would be
Question/Barrier #1 showed customers want a better way to evaluate which expert would meet their needs. Their decision process showed a low point in confidence, raising concerns of misspending money, and in some cases, not purchasing at all. The leadership team quickly recognized the call to action, based on exacerbated cost concerns, plus the high importance/low satisfaction in this area.
The journey needed to make is easy to identify the right expert to address a customer’s unique need. The more obvious the fit of expert and need, the more confidence a customer would have, and the lower the cost concern would be.
Our team recommended a robust, highly structured system to harness user generated referrals and comments from existing customers, something the company had not yet cultivated. It had been functioning as an independent, third party technology platform connecting experts and customers, and wanted to stay away from being an arbiter of the legitimacy of the experts offering services through its site. Our recommendation supported their continued independent role, and served as a solid step to address unmet customer needs all along their journey, sustaining revenue.
Getting to customer’s reasons for using a product or service always proves to be one of the most important findings. In this case we uncovered that most people want help “making a big decision in my life”. Words used include “clarity”, “guidance” and to “have confidence in my decisions”. This is the outcome users sought from the service. It was a real discovery enabling the company to orient it’s marketing strategy, customer targeting, value propositions, campaigns, messaging, imagery and so much more around this need that their experts had been addressing all this time, yet the company had not been tuned in to.
Here’s an example of the findings.
Many other important findings were identified within specific customer segments, and journey stages. Without going in to more details, these examples show how important it is to dissect the journey:
1) Across stages,
2) Within stages, and
3) To get at the why and what needs to be accomplished.
My final points on Journey Mapping are:
- Different segments may follow different journeys. Your mapping will benefit from being segment specific, especially if your segments are defined by different goals or jobs the buyer seeks to accomplish.
- To get results:
a. Pull it all together into an ACTIONABLE PLAN.
b. Broadly communicate the findings, implications and actions across the company. The insights are likely as important for product development and customer support as they are for marketing.
(1) Competing on Customer Journeys, Harvard Business Review, November 2015
(2) To maintain confidentiality, the details of the case study have been revised.
(3) The New Consumer Decision Journey, McKinsey & Co.
Marcy Strauss Axelrod is a strategy management consultant focused on helping companies grow. Her journey mapping work and unique strategies to accelerate growth have been recognized across the US, Asia and Europe, most recently at the annual conference of the International Association of Innovation Professionals in Washington DC. She is author of the forthcoming book about personal achievement, titled “On Your Game!” — due out in February 2019.